History of Lifeguard Equipment & Clothing Over the Past 100 Years

In the Beginning: Lifeguard Equipment and Clothing

Back in 1913 the beach lifeguards would row a small wooden rescue boat from the beach through the rolling surf to pull the stricken swimmers from the water. Rowing boats through waves and surf was slow and dangerous for both the lifeguard and the drowning victims. Throughout the last 100 years’ lifeguard clothing as well as lifeguard equipment has evolved into the efficient safe lifeguard products we have today.

Rescue Buoys

Rescue Can - Lifeguard Equipment

Rescue Can

In the beginning lifeguards had basic equipment. Lifeguard rescue buoys were made out of metal.  One lifeguard in the 1940s had to be rescued himself after the swimmer he was helping let go of the buoy and a wave sent it into the back of his head, knocking him out. The rescue buoys were also constructed of aluminum wood, cork or fiberglass with rope handles. The lifeguard industry has come a long way in the manufacturing of rescue gear.




Present day rescue buoys are called rescue tubes and sometimes rescue torpedoes. They are hollow, made of soft vinyl not metal, and shaped like a torpedo. These rescue tubes can easily be wrapped around the victim for safe return to the shore.
Today, lifeguards also have rescue cans that are made of plastic, and buoyant enough to support the lifeguard along with several victims. The rescue can is more buoyant then the rescue tube, but also more hazardous in rough surf conditions, because of its hardness, rigidity and inability to actually wrap around the distressed victim.

The rescue can has several hand-holds molded into the side rails for the drowning victim to grab, and hold on to, as the lifeguard tows them to safety. Another great feature of the rescue can, is that it can be connected to the shore by a rope, and the victim can be pulled to safety from the shore.

Both products have a long leash that is worn over the shoulder of the lifeguard as the victim is towed to rescue. The rescue cans and rescue tubes are usually red or orange. These rescue tubes and cans must be carried by the lifeguard at all times.

Swim Fins

Swim fins - Lifeguard Equipment

Da Fins Swim Fins

Lifeguards must be in great shape, as well as outstanding swimmers to pull drowning victims from the zigzagging troughs, and rip currents that drag swimmers out into deeper water.  But pure strength wasn’t always enough, so in the early 1960s lifeguards began wearing swim fins. These fins provide the lifeguards with more torque and speed for the rescue, therefore enabling them to reach the victim quicker, and allowing the guard to tow swimmers to safety more easily.

There are many different kinds of swim fins to choose from in our lifeguard store. The number one choice of lifeguards and watermen across the planet is the Da Fin. The Da Fins most outstanding feature is that they float, many other brands have been lost because they stink. Da Fins have traction that will keep you from slipping on the rocks that line jetties. Many other fins are hard and stiff, making them extremely difficult to put on, Da Fin are soft and pliable, so they slip on quick and easily. As well, Da Fins have been engineered for excellent acceleration, maneuverability, and tracking.

Rashguards and Surf Shirts


Rashguard Long Sleeve Navy

In the beginning lifeguards had no protection except heavy cotton outer garments during cold and windy weather. Quick drying materials hadn’t been invented. Muscles got cold and cramped while making rescues. As time went on and man-made materials were invented, the creation of wetsuits and drysuits were thought to be the answer for protecting Lifeguards from the elements. But Lifeguards didn’t have time to complete the tedious job of putting on a wetsuit or drysuit before jumping into the water for a rescue. Now with the development of the rashguards and surf shirts, both female and male lifeguards have access to a comfortable layer of warmth between them and the sand, water or wind. Rashguards come in long and short sleeves, and can be worn as a shirt, so there’s no time wasted getting to the rescue. They are made of Polyester or a Nylon Xtra Life Lyrca blends. They are designed with special fabric to stop rashes, and have a UPF sun protection of 50+.  They are so comfortable, lifeguards can sit in their towers for hours with them on, as well as surf, paddle and exercise in them. Rashguards and surf shirts are lightweight, super quick drying, ultra soft, have exceptional breathability, are hydrophobic, and water resistant. The difference between rashguards and surf shirts is that rashguards fit like a second skin, giving your muscles more warmth and support. The surf shirt is much looser, and more like a real shirt, that you would wear out and about beyond the water.

Board Short Liners

Board Short Liners - Lifeguard Clothing

Board Short Liner Navy

Having trouble with your lower half being cold? Board short Liners can be worn under your boardshorts or by themselves. Boardshort Liners are streamlined with low-drag. All board short liners are super comfy, durable, breathable, and quick drying.







Boardshorts - Lifeguard Clothing

Board Shorts Navy

If you don’t need the complete protection from the compression try boardshorts with CoolPlus liners. Our version of boardshorts, Watermen shorts, will also help keep your bottom end warmer, but with more room to breathe on a hot humid day. Boardshorts are made for both men and women. The CoolPlus liners supply extra warmth, and also prevent chafing when running. They are made with a special blend of polyester and spandex that wick away the moisture, keeping you dry and supported.




Staying fit, safe, warm and alert is possible thanks to the new technologies in lifeguard equipment and lifeguard clothing. Original Watermen, a company created by Lifeguards, for Lifeguards, supplying quality lifeguard products to millions of lifeguards all over the world.